What Emotions Are You Feeding?

Making Sense of Five Emotions

In Traditional Chinese Medicine as well as Ayurvedic Medicine, unrestrained emotions are considered to be just as responsible for illness as are external pathogens. It is now commonly recognized in the West as well as in the East that emotions and stress can cause physical diseases. Each emotion is linked to nature’s  five elements as well as to our organs.  Having the awareness of this process will help us avoid getting ill during times when we are stuck in emotional turmoil.  In order to recognize the emotions that bind our heart, we can use our body as feedback.  By using the body as feedback we gain access to rooting up the issue. Herewith 5 selected emotions, their organ systems, and suggestions on how to keep balance.

1. Fear

The emotion of fear has been commented upon as being healthy at times.  We all possess fear, in fact, fear of death is the deepest and the fear that no one can deny unless they are a trained yogi.  When we experience fear because we are about to be eaten by a dinosaur, we gain the ability to remain alert and attentive, ready and courageous enough to face any situation that presents itself. However, most of the fear that we experience is ill founded and becomes excessive. This changes things around a bit because our ability to think and act becomes halted.  When we live in continual fear it gets into our psyche and we become prone to anxiety, phobias, and paranoia. Excessive fear can generate physical disorders such as arthritis, urinary infections, kidney stones, sexual problems, neurological symptoms, and heart disturbances.  So I cannot say that there is good fear at all even when the dinosaur is upon us!  Can we have the alertness and attention to our surroundings and situation without fear? I think, yes.

Organs associated with Fear

Traditional Chinese Medicine teaches that the Kidneys hold the essence that keeps the body and mind vitalized and are most affected by fear.   The kidneys are considered the driver behind all energy processes.  In Western medicine we view the kidneys as organs that regulate water metabolism and stabilize the heart and blood pressure.

Think about what the kidneys do on a moment-to-moment basis.  They govern our water. Since the body is over 75% water, they have an incredible amount of work to do.  Water governs our flow in life. As we age, our water tends to diminish and we begin to dry out.   With that said, when the kidney chi or energy is deficient, we have issues that pertain to devitalization.

The second organ associated with water and also affected by grief is the urinary bladder, which stores the filtered water from the kidneys until it is eliminated through urination.

Depression, fatigue, difficulty adapting to new circumstances, or a general sense of feeling not so good are considered symptoms of an imbalance in this organ. Once we deplete our reserves, or if the bladder is leaking, acupuncture and herbal remedies can be used to revitalize the organ functions, and attention to diet, exercise, and meditation can help restore its healthy functions.

When water is out of balance, fear becomes an obstacle that tends to make us either freeze or flee. Many experience chronic anxiety or as an intense phobia signifying a deficiency in the water energy (water represents flow) and a corresponding lack of grounding. Physiologically, fear increases the release of hormones from the adrenal glands above the kidneys.  We all know that feeling when we are scared where our heart races, our jaw tightens, we literally are sweating it out as we hold our breath. These physical reactions feed our fear and create a vicious cycle. Excess fear injures the Kidney energy as just discussed, which in turn creates the domino effect with other organ systems.  Also if our kidney energy is weak, it will increase our fear.  The body affects the mind and the mind affects the body…it is not one way.

How To Create Security To Replace Fear

  • Practice Self Acceptance.
  • Keep Reserves Fueled.
  • Nurture Yourself with Warm Foods and Drink.  Keep in mind that the body can influence the mind, so it must stay nourished and strong.
  • Meditate to connect to you inner core where true nourishment lives.

2.  Anger

Anger is an emotion that can cause a lot of havoc not only in the mind but in the body as well.  When controlled and directed, anger can be in response to stress, frustration, or your perception of injustice. If, however, we repress the expression of anger so that it is allowed to accumulate, fester, and become unhealthy, it can cause physical symptoms, such as migraine headaches, insomnia, ulcers, and many other physical and emotional manifestations indicating organ distress namely, liver distress.  I am not suggesting that we vent our anger, but that we recognize it and work with the root cause of it—“not getting what we want”.

How do we know if we have too much anger?   An excess, or pent-up emotion such as anger, expresses itself as “quick to be irritated,” volatile outbursts, irritability, and the tendency to be annoyed and judge others too quickly or harshly. Sometimes we experience difficulty dealing with anger which manifests as depression and or anxiety, general irritability and frustration.

What the ancients tell us?

The emotion anger is said to affect the liver as well as the gallbladder.  We have heard the statement “the gall of it all”!  Literally, there is no mistake in these saying.

The Liver is the body’s largest organ; it is the body’s master laboratory, in which nourishment for the entire body is stored and distributed. The Liver has hundreds of essential metabolic functions, including the storage of glucose in the form of glycogen for times in between meals.  It is also helpful in the formation of blood and the cleansing and filtering of blood to help the body eliminate toxins; hence, why I incorporate the overnight fast™ in all dietary protocols. In Eastern Traditional Medicine the functions of the Liver go far beyond its purely physiological function and embrace emotional and spiritual qualities as well.

A more subtle perspective of the Liver is to keep everything moving and working synergistically to expand its nutrients where needed.   When becomes stagnant and restricted we “get heated” and inflammation is created which is associated with many disease states.  The Liver also rules the muscles and tendons, which connect imbalances to all manner of disorders involving muscles, ligaments, and tendons—bursitis, tendinitis, arthritis, and fibromyalgia.

The second organ associated with the emotion of anger is the gallbladder.  The gallbladder is a small organ that stores and intensifies the bile that was created in the liver, and pumps it into the body and bowel as needed. If you think about it for a moment, the gallbladder has to decide when to pump the bile, so in Traditional Chinese Medicine, the gallbladder is viewed as a Decision Maker, which translates psychologically to being able to make decisions and have good judgment instead of vacillating unable to make decisions.   The gallbladder and liver work synergistically to support metabolism.  

How to Keep Anger in Check

  • Eat cleansing foods to enhance removal of toxins and movement in the GI track
  • Eat fresh foods.  Eating too much fried and processed foods stresses the liver and adds heat to the situation.
  • Move your body to enhance clearing and change.
  • Let go of the past and move into the present.  If you find yourself holding on to past thoughts and impressions of insult, harm or injustice, ask yourself, what is it that you want.  Write it down and allow yourself to rid the impression.

3.  Joy

Joy is the emotion that sustains our health and vitality.  It gives us the enthusiasm for life and a feeling of total nourishment and prosperity.  Being in a state of joyfulness allows our consciousness to expand and experience all that life has to offer.  A joyful person is easily recognized because they exude love for all with the exclusion of none.  We can train our mind to be in a state of joy no matter what outside reality is presented to us.

Organs associated with Joy

In Western medicine, the muscular organ called the heart is considered to be the center of the circulatory system. Its primary responsibility is to serve as a pump that controls the flow of blood through the body.

In Ancient Medicine the responsibilities of the Heart are also extended to emotional and spiritual realms. The Egyptians would weigh the heart of the deceased against a feather and if it was heavier (meaning it had a stored emotional sadness and grief) it was fed to the lions. The heart is the space where our true self dwells—our soul.  It is not the physical organ that represents the heart; it is that space where individual consciousness merges with universal consciousness.

When the heart is clear and open, joy is constant and unwavering. If, however, the heart is in discontent, the light of joy gets covered and we experience a disruption of emotion leading to possibly mania, excessive talking, and ultimately nervous exhaustion. More severe disorders can appear, such as insomnia, low blood pressure, dizziness, irregular heartbeat, and heart palpitations.

In many ancient traditions, joy is the emotion that sustains our vitality. The emotion is represented with the sound of laughter and enthusiasm.

How to Keep Healthy and Joyful

  • Look at the positive in everyone to keep yourself bathed in the light of happiness
  • Eat fresh unspiced cooling foods.  Eating fresh green leafy vegetables provides the nourishment to the heart.  Keep the hot spices at bay.
  • Move your body to enhance and strengthen the physical heart. Exercise also releases endorphins to sustain your happiness health
  • Trust your intuition and listen to your inner voice.  You have the innate intelligence to heal your entire organism. Just sit quietly each day in meditation and tap into this resource.

4.  Worry

Worry is an emotion associated with stabilizing energy which represents our ability to feel secure and safe. When our earth or stabilizing energy is balanced we stay grounded and, when it is weakened by worry and/or in conjunction with a faulty diet, then we experience a disruption in our organism namely the stomach-spleen-pancreas functions. (The TCM view see reference at end of article)

When we cause stagnation to our energies in the stomach for example, we experience feelings of heaviness, laziness, inertia, and water retention.  Which in turn affects the entire digestion including assimilation of nutrients.

Worry can turn into obsessive-compulsive thinking and cause our system to literally shut down.

Organs associated with worry.

The Spleen/Pancreas and Stomach are deeply affected by worry.  The spleen in a western medical model is said to be responsible for our blood sugar metabolism.  The TCM model describes the spleen/pancreas as the organs responsible for transforming our food into chi (energy) and blood, extracting the essence from our food, and eliminating the waste. Did you ever experience a bout of intense worry and you feel dizzy from not only holding your breath, but from your blood sugar dropping?

The primary function of the stomach is to collect our food then run it through a process of breakdown sometimes referred to ‘rot and ripen’.  We take our food in through the mouth where is broken down by saliva, and this breakdown continues into the stomach. Here in the stomach the food is broken down further into small particles where the energy can be extracted and transformed. This process helps create the essence of what I term “nutritional energetics”  where what we eat is ultimately transformed to all parts of the bodymind complex.  Simply put, our consciousness.

Excerpted from: (Feeling Good Matters: The Yoga of Mind, Medicine and Healing)

How to Keep Worry at Bay

  •  Breath and relax to enhance the movement of prana through your organism.
  •  Limit sweets.  Instead of using sweets to add sweetness to your life, feed yourself with nourishment— a cup of hot tea, soup ..something warm and nurturing.
  •  Eat grounding foods including the root vegetables.  They will help support your feelings of uneasiness.
  •  Meditate to connect to you inner core where true nourishment lives.

5.  Grief

The emotion of grief is associated with the Lungs and Large Intestine.  Grief, when balanced and openly expressed, allows us to experience natural feelings of loss and mourning. When grief becomes excessive, however, a hardening process sets in that, as it grows deeper, can lead to spine and joint problems, constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, and respiratory diseases, such as bronchitis, asthma, and pulmonary fibrosis.  I can attest to this personally.

Organs associated with grief

The organs associated with grief as mentioned above are the Lungs and the Large Intestine, which reflect the processes of letting go and receiving.  Think about this for a moment…

Our lungs and large intestine both receive and let go when we are in balance. When out of balance the tendency is to experience bowel disturbances, particularly constipation, as our bodies become dehydrated.

Organs that are affected by Grief

The Lungs are the organs of respiration.  On a moment-to-moment basis they take in oxygen through what is called inspiration to support all our cells as well as eliminate the waste from each cell in the form of carbon dioxide through expiration. When we die we expire and when we live with joy we feel inspired. These words are significant.  When we take in the new we must rid ourselves of the old to make space for the new to enter.  We can see this clearly in the respiratory process of exhalation and inhalation.  (Ref. Feeling Good Matters: The Yoga of Mind, Medicine and Healing)

Energetically speaking, the large intestine has similar energies.  It accepts the by products of digestion. It absorbs water and some minerals, but also eliminates the toxic wastes from the body.

When we experience grief or deep sadness, we lose the ability to ascertain and when to  yield and demand, give and take, hold on and let go. (These contrasts represent the subtle aspect of the give and take energies of the lung and large intestine).  These imbalances lead to perhaps being overly rigid, inflexible, and stiff, literally and mentally. Physically we are more prone to bronchial infections and sinusitis. Our allergies are amplified and issues like asthma and pneumonia can appear.

Since, the Large Intestine is responsible for making distinctions between nutrients and metabolic byproducts not useful to keep, when we experience grief this process becomes disrupted.  We may create an environment to experience irritable bowel syndrome, constipation, flatulence, and abdominal pain, as well as loss of appetite.

How to Work with Grief

  • Breath and relax to enhance the movement of prana through your organism
  • Limit sweets.  Instead of using sweets to add sweetness to your life, feed yourself with nourishment— a cup of hot tea, soup ..something warm and nurturing
  • Forgive yourself and others and trust and accept what is.  Everything that happens serves as an experience to strengthen your constitution.  We don’t have personal control of the happenings of the universe.
  • Meditate to connect to you inner core where true nourishment lives.

Summary Checklist to Cultivate Positive Emotions

There are general principles that I suggest to all those that want to experience what I call Emotional Alignment in my book Feeling Good Matters: The Yoga of Mind, Medicine and Healing.

To create love in your life, don’t expect too much from others. We do this by practicing giving away and letting go without expecting anything in return.  When you do for others, do without wanting them to do something for you.  It only creates misery when they don’t return the favor.

When you want to experience a tranquil mind we must learn self-acceptance.   Change your perception if you want to experience joy because our reality is only a result of how we perceive things.

Simply said of course, but meditation, a good diet, nourishing relationships all support our cultivation of positive emotions.  Learn to meditate and your life will come alive!





Concepts on Traditional Chinese Medicine were taken from The Web that Has no Weaver, Author, Ted Kaptchuck

Feeling Good Matters: The Yoga of Mind, Medicine and Healing, Author, Susan Taylor, Ph.D.